If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a struggle. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an inside volume level. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and grouchily asks what you’re yelling for.
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds worse?
So, hearing loss can be sort of curious. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially if it goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or someone is yelling to get your attention.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a difficult time identifying how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. How can that be?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs are damaged. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are often confused. That conflation is, at first, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively treat auditory recruitment. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those wavelengths. It’s kind of like magic, only it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really effectively is what we’re trying to convey here).
Successful treatment will only be accomplished with specific types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, don’t have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Contact us for an appointment
It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
You can get help so call us.